Trump Administration Begins Rescinding Fraudulent Immigrant Citizenship
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By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
While the media has focused on the Trump administration’s strict “zero tolerance” immigration policies and family separations along the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. immigration authorities have been quietly exploring other opportunities to deport people who fraudulently obtained legal status. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has created an office that will focus on identifying naturalized Americans who are suspected of cheating to get their citizenship and then seek to strip them of it.
According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna told the Associated Press in an interview in June that his agency is hiring several dozen lawyers and immigration officers. These new hires will review cases of immigrants who were ordered to be deported and are suspected of using fake identities to later get green cards and citizenship through naturalization.
USCIS Can Take Away Citizenship if Illegal Actions Involved
Per FindLaw.com, even if USCIS fails to uncover any lies or omissions at first, the agency may still file a denaturalization action against someone after citizenship has been granted. Examples include failure to disclose criminal activities or lying about one’s real name or identity.
If denaturalization sounds like a time-consuming process, that’s because it is. As with any civil case, the denaturalization process begins with a formal complaint against the defendant, who must respond to the complaint within 60 days. At trial, the defendant may defend himself or herself or hire an immigration attorney.
However, the burden of proof is exceptionally high. According to the USCIS Adjudicator’s Field Manual, “Because citizenship is such a precious right, it cannot be taken away unless the government is able to meet a high burden of proof…Accordingly, a case should only be referred for denaturalization where there is objective evidence to establish that the individual was not eligible for naturalization, or procured naturalization by willful concealment or material misrepresentation.”
Proving that a naturalized person became a U.S. citizen through fraudulent means may be time-consuming. But the consequences of a successful denaturalization action are swift — deportation is immediate. However, this initiative could potentially cost taxpayers a good deal of money in court costs. Denaturalization proceedings occur in a Federal District Court, not an immigration court.
Cissna told the AP, “What we’re looking at, when you boil it all down, is potentially a few thousand cases.” He declined to say how much the effort would cost, but said it would be covered by the agency’s existing budget, which is funded by immigration application fees.
Some Immigrant Army Reservists and Recruits Promised Citizenship Are Being Discharged
The Trump administration isn’t stopping at the denaturalization process to remove immigrants from the ranks of U.S. citizens. The AP learned in early July that some immigrant U.S. Army reservists and recruits who enlisted in the military with a promised path to citizenship are being abruptly discharged.
The news service was unable to quantify how many men and women who enlisted through this special recruitment program have been discharged from the service. However, immigration attorneys say they know of more than 40 people who have been discharged or whose status has become questionable.
Of the recruits who were interviewed, some said they had no idea why they were being discharged; others said they were vaguely told they posed a “security risk.” The Department of Defense has not provided an explanation for the discharges due to pending litigation.
In order to enlist in the U.S. military, immigrants must have legal status and a 2016 DoD recruitment program offered enlistment as a quicker pathway to citizenship. However, recruits need to attend basic training to fully qualify. Those servicemembers who have recently been discharged had their basic training delayed, making them ineligible for naturalization.
Margaret Stock is an Alaska-based immigration attorney and retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the immigrant recruitment program. Stock said the servicemembers she’s heard from were told the Defense Department had not managed to put them through extensive background checks, which include CIA, FBI and national intelligence screenings and counterintelligence interviews. Therefore, by default, they did not meet the background check requirement and were ineligible for enlistment and naturalization.
According to the DoD, “All servicemembers (i.e. contracted recruits, active duty, Guard and Reserve) and those with an honorable discharge are protected from deportation.” However, the servicemembers in question didn’t serve long enough to receive an honorable discharge. Many received an “uncharacterized discharge,” neither dishonorable nor honorable.
Former President Barack Obama added Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to the list of those eligible for the special program. But in the fall of 2017, the Trump administration canceled the contracts of hundreds of recruits still in the enlistment process. The DoD canceled the expedited naturalization program for immigrant soldiers a few months later.
Relatively speaking, the numbers of immigrants involved in both the denaturalization process and uncharacterized discharges are extremely small, compared to the hundreds of thousands going through removal or asylum proceedings after crossing the border. It’s unclear what practical purpose these actions serve in terms of national priorities. But the removal of U.S. citizenship continues to send a message of zero tolerance for immigrants who don’t pass legal or security muster, according to Trump administration rules.